On June 5, 1872, pastors and delegates from nine Baptist churches in the Dakota Territory met in Vermillion for the first meeting of the Baptist Association. They adopted the following resolution: “Be it resolved that we take immediate steps for the establishment of an institution among us and that we devote a suitable portion of time at each annual meeting to the consideration of this important subject and give our individual and associated influence to encourage a more general and complete education of our youth under distinctively Christian influence.”
Under the name Dakota Collegiate Institute, secondary and collegiate programs began on September 8, 1883. The institution’s name changed to Sioux Falls University in 1885, with the secondary program called the Academy and the collegiate department branded Sioux Falls College. Although the college grew, the Academy’s enrollment declined, forcing it to close in 1925.
Between 1929 and 1931, Sioux Falls College acquired four Baptist schools that had ceased to operate: Des Moines University, Grand Island College, Cedar Valley Seminary and Parker College. With the 1931 merger of Grand Island College with what was still legally Sioux Falls University, the institution’s official name became Sioux Falls College.
During the Second World War, the College lost its accreditation and offered 200 students, mainly women, two-year degrees. Enrollment surged when the veterans returned home, only to lapse to meager numbers two years later. Financially, the school was in dire straights. However, not unlike the young men and women who served our nation during WWII, ordinary people accomplished extraordinary things during those lean years to ensure the institution’s survival.
Reuben P. Jeschke, the College’s longest-serving president (1953-1970), helped regain full, regional accreditation in 1958, and under his leadership enrollment grew from 378 in 1958 to 1,006 in 1968 – a 166 percent increase. The institution’s endowment, although modest, also grew, and what Jeschke described as a “near miracle” happened – a history of balanced budgets.
The most visible change during this time was the campus. Jeschke oversaw the building of Mears Library, Salsbury Student Union, Salsbury Science Center, Jeschke Fine Arts Center and three residence halls. In fact, Time magazine featured the College’s growth in 1967. The caption read: “Seven Buildings in Seven Years.” The sub-title added: “But our stature comes from people." By the end of Jeschke’s tenure, Sioux Falls College was well-positioned for the steady success of the 70s and 80s.
The 90s ushered in a new era of excellence. In order to better reflect the Board of Trustees’ desire to “name the future,” one with growth in student body, expansion of academic programs, improvement in facilities and enhancement of the institution’s reputation, Sioux Falls College became the University of Sioux Falls, effective January 1995.
Dr. Mark Benedetto became the 22nd president in 1997, and under his leadership the University has experienced several years of record enrollment and has added graduate programs in business and education. The number of full-time faculty has also more than doubled. Financial giving has increased from $1 million annually to more than $6 million per year, and the institution’s endowment has more than tripled. In addition, 15 renovation and construction projects have added approximately $32 million of institutional assets to the 24-acre residential campus and the 35-acre athletic complex at 69th Street & Cliff Avenue. New construction has included the following projects: Cleveland Professional Development Center, Collier Baker Hall, Bill & Marian Sullivan Faith & Living Center, Sanford Health Sports Complex, McDonald Center and an addition to the Salsbury Science Center.
These are but a few of the highlights of an institution that resolutely embraces the future. The achievements have been many. None, however, is more significant than the University’s powerful tradition to carry out its mission “…to foster academic excellence and the development of mature Christian persons for service to God and humankind in the world.” The future will be forged by the creativity and dedication of faculty, staff, students, alumni and friends working together.